A Comment on the MAZ Articles

The debate about the renaming of the African statues in Park Sanssouci has been taken up by the media. The Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung (MAZ) published four articles on the topic between early March and early April.

African Statue, Park Sanssouci

African Statue, Park Sanssouci

The first article of the MAZ (03/06/2014) merely points out that the efforts by city councillor Andreas Menzel to rename the rotary in question have been rejected. Utterances of Mayor Jann Jakobs, who has labelled Menzel’s suggestion as „completely irrelevant“, and the argument of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation that the name has to be considered as a historical term accompany the article. Obviously, there is no understanding of the fact that the term might be painful for many people. To ignore this, or to maintain that nowadays everybody knows that it is not meant as a slur shows clearly that racist language is still the norm. Some white voices even defend its usage and thus the continuation of racism. Other opinions that welcome the renaming or backgrounds to Menzel’s concerns are not mentioned.

Only in the second article (03/25/2014, almost three weeks after the publication of the first one) it is mentioned that Menzel has not only demanded the renaming of the rotary of Black statues, but also the establishment of a plaque which points out the involvement of Frederick the Great’s ancestors in the slave trade. This information is crucial in order to understand that the debate is not “just about changing a name“, which many readers seem to believe, it is actually an attempt to start a serious conversation on racist language and the legacies of Prussia’s colonial history. The comments of the readers show that this is not clear to many of them. Rejection and annoyance seem to be typical reactions: „And slowly, the language-fanatical political correctness starts to annoy me“.

Unfortunately, the first article of the MAZ has significantly helped to dismiss Menzel’s concern merely as a „language-fanatical political correctness“ rather than to report seriously and profoundly on the debate and its backgrounds. The MAZ tries to catch up on this in three follow up articles (03.28.2014 and 01.04.2014); different voices who argue for a renaming or explain why such terms can be hurtful or trivialize historical conditions are mentioned. Although not all of them favour the renaming, they insist on the relevance of the debate and do not consider it as “totally irrelevant” as Jakobs does. Instead they point out that the debate needs to be run seriously and profoundly.

Nevertheless, the MAZ fails to provide a full picture and seems to share Jakobs‘ opinion. On the one hand, it was decided to add some more differentiated articles to the one-sided, disappointing opening about Menzel’s concerns. But on the other hand, these efforts are directly negated by printing a gloss with the second article. The suggestions of the author of that gloss for a new name for the rotary, show her ignorance of the debate’s background and her arrogant complacency. The same can probably be said about the readers of the MAZ who commented on the articles and who voted by a large majority against the renaming in a poll. The media coverage of the debate makes it even more important to question representations of white dominance and to find ways to move it more into public consciousness.

Credits// Authors: Paula Seemann & Anna von Rath. Photography: Miriam Redzewsky
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